Important disclosure: this book was completely not for me. At the same time though, I think that there are a bunch of people that will really like the thing. Let’s make this clear though: I’m not one of them.
DARK JENNY is the third Eddie Lacrosse novel by author Alex Bledsoe. I haven’t read any of the other novels in the series prior to this, but I don’t think I suffered because of that. This time is told as a frame story about something that happened a while ago in Mr. Lacrosse’s life, dealing with the history of Great Britain...erm... Grand Bruan.
Eddie Lacrosse is a “sword jockey” (read: private investigator) in a fantasy world that is very solidly Arthurian. In fact, it’s so Arthurian, that all of the major players are present: Arthur, Gwenevere, Lancelot, Morgan, Merlin, and all the Knights of the Round Table. Of course, they all have different names, so it’s not really a re-telling of the Arthur tale, but...it is. The only real new players in the tale are Mr. Lacrosse (focus point of the tale) and, of course, Dark Jenny (minimally).
The story starts out with Mr. Lacrosse having been hired by a woman to search out her husband, who has been decidedly lacking in his husbandly affections as of late. Eddie’s a sarcastic, wry, and yet somewhat sentimental kind of guy that has a very easy way of telling his tale. In the process of Eddie’s investigation, he’s implicated in the death of a Knight of the Double Tarn (read: Round Table). Although very few of the other knights believe Eddie might have had anything to do with this death, he’s arrested and then quickly given a leash long enough that he can clear his good name. The story rushes from one place to the next, rollicking between fights and poisons and ogres and invasion, never really slowing down until we get to the end.
Bledsoe’s writing is good. It’s fast and easy. Unfortunately, except for our main character, Eddie, nearly all of the other characters come off as cardboard. World-building is essentially nil, with the bulk being laid upon the back of the reader’s prior knowledge of Arthurian England. There are occasional mentions of “walking through the castle” or about “so-and-so wearing a suit of armor”. There are swords that pop up occasionally too. The naming convention was incredibly modern, which really made it quite difficult for me to get into the swing of things. The story could have easily been stripped of its Arthurian trappings, of the “fantasy” setting, and but for one very small scene been entirely told as a modern-day mystery. It probably wouldn’t have been as interesting though. So, two cheers for frilly settings. Hip hip, hooray! Hip hip, hooray!
This novel was very status quo mystery for me. The climax was even the culmination of a plethora of “I’m not going to tell you” moments followed by the ubiquitous “here’s how it all REALLY happened” explanation. The only things that really save it in the end is that the story just reads so dang fast and it doesn’t ever take itself very seriously. It’s a frolicking, fluffy, marshmallow of a story that you can get into and get out of with very little effort.
I can absolutely see that there will be people that will LOVE this novel. In fact, Amazon reviews are actually quite high, thus reinforcing my thoughts. Still, there’s nothing here that was out of the ordinary, or surprisingly new, or really even worthwhile for me. Solidly mediocre. It wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination though. So if you’re in for this kind of fluff novel, you might want to pick this one up. If not though, you know where you can go for some goods.
Recommended age: 18+
Language: A little bit, though strong
Violence: Some, and a bit gory at those times
Sex: Very minimal, but two scenes were surprisingly content-riddled
Alex Bledsoe's Website
Sarah Stanton is the only child of business magnate Alexander Stanton. She's a woman ahead of her time—her time being New York's 1880s, the Gilded Age of industry and technology, but otherwise behind on women's suffrage.
However, Sarah doesn't let her father or society's strictures slow her down. Sure she has to wear a bustle and corset, and her father wants to marry her off by the end of the season, but that doesn't stop her from trying to find Sir Dennis Darby's killer.
In the meantime, Darby's magnum opus, an automaton named Tom, is also trying to find his creator's killer. Unfortunately as a machine he's considered persona non grata, and the Paragons—the vigilante heroes of New York who use steam and technology to serve and protect, among whom is Alexander Stanton himself—refuse to follow Darby's last request to make Tom their new leader. They even go so far as to confine the automaton and refuse to repair him. Sarah sympathizes.
THE FALLING MACHINE by newcomer Andrew P. Mayer covers a lot of ground. What really makes a hero? Is it the mask and costume? Is it supernatural abilities? Is it their sense of morality? Steampunk fans—especially the YA variety—will enjoy this recent addition to the sub-genre. Not only are there superheroes and robots, but the steampunk tech plays an integral part of the story, there's a mystery to uncover, societal issues, aging superheros, and a villain who truly believes that he's doing the right thing—even if it means murder and the breakdown of their way of life.
Mayer does a good job explaining the story's machines and inventions, and he includes some fascinating concepts. Even though these descriptions can slow the pace, it helps develop the atmosphere, and since the tech is important to the story, it's worth the time to pay attention. We only get a taste of his portrayal of Industrial Revolution-era New York, its high society as well as the common man. Despite this brief glimpse, I still got a good feel for the time and place, and I suspect there will be more as the series continues, as there simply wasn't time to go into depth here.
Mayer creates the story's superhero crossovers with enough stereotypes to make them familiar, but without being lazy—they still feel like real people. I enjoyed both the main characters, Tom and Sarah. Tom is more than a machine, as he attempts to carry out his maker's plans. Readers will learn a lot about Darby and the kind of man he was from the machines he made. Sarah is barely into womanhood and discovering the kind of woman she is and wants to be. Her relationship with her father feels a little forced, but it isn't hard to believe that Alexander Stanton behaves as a result of his era and class.
Unlike the wealth of steampunk coming out today, there's no magic or vampires or werewolves in THE FALLING MACHINE. I can't say I'm too sad about it. The result is that the focus is on the tech itself and its importance to the story, and not simply tech for its own sake with the supernatural stealing the show.
While the pace moves forward consistently, revelations come slowly, and the story isn't much further along by the time we reach the end of the book. Most of the novel is told from Tom and Sarah's PoV (with minor references from Alexander Stanton and the Sleuth Paragon Peter Wickham), so the storyline involves following clues and trying to come to a conclusion. Another issue with the pacing involves the villain not even appearing until the end of the novel. While THE FALLING MACHINE storyline itself is mostly self-contained, the ending leaves the conclusion too open, and readers will have to wait until the second book, HEARTS OF SMOKE AND STEAM , to hopefully find some answers to their inevitable questions.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: A handful of moderate uses
Violence: Tom and Sarah's sleuthing does lead to danger; there's blood, but otherwise it's not gory
Sex: Vague references; one of the Paragons is referred to as a sodomite a few times
Want to give this series a shot? Below are the links:
1 - THE FALLING MACHINE
2 - HEARTS OF SMOKE AND STEAM
Confession time. I had never read A FIRE UPON THE DEEP until now. Please don't think less of me. The thing is, and I've mentioned this before, I'm not a big SF reader. In general, I think most writers of SF are far more interested in showing how intelligent they are rather than telling a good story. It's a personal opinion. Every now-and-then I fins an SF novel that I really enjoy, but it just isn't my thing. That's why I let my reviewer, Shawn, handle most SF novels that are sent to me.
Anyway, back to my startling revelation. I'm sure tabloids are going crazy somewhere. I happened to mention to a publicist at Tor that I hadn't read the Vernor Vinge classic, and he freaked out. A week later I had a copy in my PO Box from that same publicist. Likewise my good reviewer, Shawn, was a bit surprised at this glaring hole in my reading background. He had just sent me his review for Vinge's THE CHILDREN OF THE SKY, and I thought, "Hmm. Maybe I should really read the original. See what all the fuss is about." After all, A FIRE UPON THE DEEP is considered one of THE classics in SF.
Honestly I was prepared to be totally let down, but I pressed on so that I could give a newbie's view on the novel.
First impression? I read the prologue and absolutely hated it. I wanted to put the book down and go read some James Barclay. But I had made promises, and I keep my promises at least 50% of the time.
The good news is that the next 80 pages were completely fascinating. The odd tone of the prologue vanished (later I came to understand it...still hate it, but understand it), and I was left discovering an enthralling universe filled with odd aliens and a very small cast of humans. The main story revolves around a civilization of humans unearthing an entity (the Blight) that spreads throughout the galaxy taking over nearly everything. I am paraphrasing there and not using the correct terms, but using those terms would make me have to describe the whole effing book so that it all makes sense to the reader who hasn't experienced this novel.
A small ship with very few humans on board escapes the Blight and crashes on a medieval world inhabited by a race of creatures soon dubbed the Tines. The Tines are dog-like creatures that are separated into small packs of 3-6 (generally) individual "dogs" making up a single hive-mind personality. They are super intelligent, and are one of the most fascinating parts of this novel. In a way, the Tines and the world they live on make a good chunk of the novel almost a Fantasy novel rather than SF. These portions of the story focus on two human children, Jefri and Johanna, and a variety of Tines.
The other characters firmly ground the novel as SF. Ravna and Pham (along with two plant-like aliens) end up on a mission to save the two children and their ship which may have a way to destroy the Blight.
So here's what I ended up liking about this novel. While it is SF, it doesn't feel like it the entire time. As I mentioned before, there is a nice mixture of SF and a little fantasy mixed in here. This slight genre blending made the novel far more enjoyable than I expected. For some reason I was expecting to need multiple PhDs in physics and rocket-science to understand anything happening in the novel. Instead, the novel came across as fairly accessible. I felt the characters acted in believable ways. I thought the writing was clear. The concepts surrounding the way the universe is set up is really freaking awesome. I was really diggin' the whole thing.
And then the novel got REALLY slow. After the first 100 pages, the novel was a lot of people sitting around punctuated by brief moments of "stuff happening". It wasn't a bad "slow", but it did kill some of the excitement for me. Momentum faded away. I put the book down for a few days. Really, I just wanted something to happen. Something big. 2/3 of the way through the novel a lot of stuff did happen, but I wished it would have all come about a little sooner.
I realize I'm talking very vague here, and I apologize. A FIRE UPON THE DEEP is a complex novel. For me to explain all the details would 1) take for-freaking-ever, 2) be boring as heck, and 3) ruin a lot of the fun discovery. If you've already read this novel, you know what I'm saying. If you haven't read the novel, then the best thing I can recommend is buying the book. The book lays it all out for you.
There is a lot of good here. The ending makes up for most of the extreme slowness of the middle of the novel. Everything is wrapped up a tad too neatly for my taste, but it was still cool to see the convergence of technologies in an anti-Prime Directive sort of way.
So did I like this book? Yeah, I actually did. Vinge is a great writer. His ideas are sweet. His alien characters are awesome (his human ones are solid, but not amazing). It's a slow, dense Space Opera. If you are into Alastair Reynolds, you'll dig Vinge a lot I think. I liked the overall accessibility of the novel. Yes, I liked this book quite a bit. From a guy who doesn't really like SF that much, I think this says a lot. I can easily see why people who love SF--and thus my reviewer, Shawn--are absolutely entranced by this novel. I'll definitely read the prequel and sequel(s). I'd totally consider this an Elitist Classic and put it in the Science Fiction 201 level, and I'd recommend it to all you SF lovers who have somehow missed it until now.
Recommended Age: 16 and up mostly for comprehension.
Language: Hardly any.
Violence: Not much.
Sex: Mentioned, but never detailed.
As much as I liked zombies, I think there was a point where I reached my limit. I used to get all sorts of excited when I read the back of a novel and the golden word "zombie" jumped out at me. But then things got a little out of control. Zombies were everywhere; TV, movies, books...wherever you looked a zombie was staring back at you. So I cut back. I stuck to AMC's The Walking Dead and the excellent comic it is based one. I limited my zombie novels to those by two authors: Mira Grant and Jonathan Maberry. A month or two ago I started feeling an itch. A desire to read about zombies. Right when I was about to give in, I got Maberry's new, straight-up zombie novel in the mail, DEAD OF NIGHT. Not only did I get to indulge my slight itch for zombies, but I did it by reading one of my favorite authors.
DEAD OF NIGHT is about the onset of the zombie apocalypse in Stebbin County, Pennsylvania. A famous serial killer is executed, then sent to Stebbins County for burial. Except this is a zombie novel, so you know this guy isn't going to stay buried...if he even makes it into the ground in the first place. The main characters are two cops, Dez Fox and JT, and a reporter, Billy Trout (who is Dez's ex). These three characters make great reads, and for the most part act like i would expect them to (more on this in a bit).
Here's the thing. This is a zombie novel in the most traditional manner. Zombie outbreak --> zombies bite people --> everyone freaks out --> guns, guns, and more guns --> zombies bite people...you get the idea. While not the most original take on the subject, it is Maberry's execution of it that really gives the novel some bite (Pun totally intended! Stop shaking your head, you know it was awesome!). His pacing is fantastic. His humor well placed. His horror even more perfectly placed than the humor. For me, the novel got completely awesome when PoVs from the zombies started showing up. So well done. So. Well. Done.
I have two things that kept pulling me out of the novel. First, I felt like there were too many PoVs. We had the main characters, zombies, side characters, nobodies, government people, a radio station...basically everyone in Stebbins County and in Washington DC. It was a few too many in a book that wasn't long enough to incorporate that as many as were included. But I could deal, because the pacing kept the pages turning.
the thing that really pulled me out of the novel was how unaware of zombies the people were. They act like they never had heard of zombies, or that Romero was never born. Even when the dead start walking around chomping on people, the scared individuals start throwing around (and dismissing) everything from viruses to terrorism to freaking vampires...yet they never think, "Hmm, zombies." Maybe it is because I am spoiled by how well the self-aware world worked in Mira Grant's FEED. Regardless, this really pulled me out of the story. On the flip side, after I finished the book I heard that this was Maberry's way of trying to capture a Night of the Living Dead type of atmosphere in a modern setting. Assume people didn't have much knowledge of zombies. How would the government, law enforcement agencies, news people and general citizens act? It softened the blow quite a bit, and gives the book a lot more leeway. If you go into the novel with that latter mind-set, you may not have any problems at all (and I recommend you do read the book thinking that way regardless--you'll like the novel more).
I was leaning towards only "liking" the novel rather than "loving" it when I read the last two chapters. Those two chapters changed my mind. I ended up loving this book. Would I want a sequel? Nah. I want this story left like it is. It has more impact with it ending this way. I would like to see Maberry hit the more supernatural stuff again like in GHOST ROAD BLUES. Until then, and until I get a new Joe Ledger novel, DEAD OF NIGHT will tie me over perfectly.
This just reaffirms why Jonathan Maberry is one of my favorite authors.
Recommended Age: 18+
Violence: There is some really effed up stuff here. It's brutal, violent, and heart-wrenching.
Sex: Talked about, but nothing too explicit.
PS - I should also point out that Maberry's use of the TS Elliot poem "The Hollow Men" is freaking awesome. Well done!
Celia is in vampire limbo. She hasn't joined the ranks of the undead, but she's no longer human. She's got fangs, a taste for blood, and superhuman strength; but at the same time she's awake during the day and can withstand sunlight, holy water, and other vampire repellents.
You see, a security job for a foreign prince who wanted to enjoy the night life on a visit to L.A. turned deadly. During the chaos Celia was attacked by an old vampire—and it's only the oldest vampires who can create new ones—but the process was interrupted. Instead of dying or being turned, Celia became what's known in vampire circles as an abomination.
But that's not the worst thing. Her sire plans to finish the job, and she must find and kill him before he does.
I just want to get something out of the way. I really enjoy Urban Fantasy (for several reasons that I won't bore you with). I've read my share of the kick-butt female variety, and a lot of times it's frustratingly unrealistic. Often these women are really only men with boobs (can I use that word on this blog?), who are loud, obnoxious, and unsympathetic, who have an emotional breakdown thrown in to make them feel more feminine. Fortunately, BLOOD SONG doesn't have this problem. Sure Celia could kick your butt, but really it's nothing personal. It's her job. She's a professional bodyguard, and she has the lifestyle, attitude, and skills to prove it. But it doesn't change the fact that she's still a girl who's having a really bad day.
Set in present-day Los Angeles, this is a world of vampires, werewolves, warrior priests, mages, telepaths, and a variety of mythological creatures. Religion does matter. But so does an education in the supernatural. Adams makes sure we understand how things work in this world, what magic is used for, and how the human public deals with the things that go bump in the night. But since Celia isn't magically gifted, she has to use her smarts, and some trusty gadgets to keep her in the game.
Cat Adams is the pseudonym for the writing duo of C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, and they have quite a few books under their belts—and it shows. The plot progression proceeds at a great clip, we're introduced to the large and varied cast without being overwhelmed, the location/magic all make sense and are explained without boring info dumps, and the first-person PoV narrative is engaging and fluid. However, even the most experienced writers can have trouble with a story, and in BLOOD SONG the storytelling suffers from a few hiccups and the plot can get convoluted—while Adams explains things, I still had trouble following who exactly the bad guys were and who/why/what they were up to.
The best thing about this book is the main character Celia, who is likable and interesting. The next best was that the story didn't go where I expected it to. Sure, like I expected, more things go wrong, we meet more of her friends, learn more of Celia's history and what makes her tick. But then other characters throw a wrench into the story and Celia has to react. She does the best she can to control what's going on, but too many times even the best-intentioned people have other ideas; yet others want to use her for their own purposes; and even her own family has surprises in store.
Eventually Celia does take matters into her own hands. But watch out, because this chick refuses to be jerked around.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: It's liberally sprinkled
Violence: Vampires=blood and gore
Sex: There's a scene at a strip club; Celia gets a little hot and heavy with the ex; a few references other than that
There will be more to see in my review for SIREN SONG, the next book in the series.
I think I was in third grade when I first learned about river deltas: places where a river empties into a large body of water, slowing from its directed flow into an ever-broadening depository of silt and mass that will, so often, teem with vibrant life. I can’t remember the last time I’d thought about the phenomena that result in such earthy structures, let alone the concept, and yet the analogy between a river delta and this book fit so perfectly to one another that I simply couldn’t deny it.
BLACKDOG is KV Johansen’s debut novel, and though I didn’t find this read overly amazing, I did end up making a few realizations about the search for new authors and what might be important when choosing to take a chance on one. The world in BLACKDOG is one that is rife with potential. Gods and demons fill the playing field, with the Old Great Gods having removed themselves from the scene quite some time ago. Attalissa, one of the plethora of regional-specific gods, has chosen of her own will to evidence herself as a mortal being that is perpetually reborn. She has taken for herself a protector, the Blackdog, that rears and teaches her of her potential and history with each renewal of life.
The story starts with a bang, as the renegade wizard, Tamghat, has gathered and brought an army to the doors of the Lissavakaili temple, on an island in the middle of a sacred lake within the holdfast of the mountains. Attalissa, alas, is too young and has not yet come into her godly powers. Thus she and the Blackdog are driven by the threat of death from her holy bastion, the only place in the expanse of the world in which she can survive, and into the realm of other non-mortalized, and very introverted gods. Thus, she becomes mortal in the true sense of the word, with no protections and no hope of re-attaining her position of power unless she returns one day and destroys the threat of Tamghat.
And that was really the problem with the story. The girl has to grow up before she can be powerful again and regain her throne.
So, she grows up, and in the interim, we learn a lot about the world, and the other gods, and how those gods interact with the world at large, and the history of the world. Like Tom Lloyd’s cover quote suggests, the book is quite “interesting” in this regard. There is a whole lot of what I considered world-building here, and it is filled with detail. This development, which we get throughout the entire book, was at the crux of my realization because this world literally “teems with vibrant life”. The world felt full. It felt realized. And it filled the pages. Showcasing this ability, I think, is probably what got the book noticed, because the author displays so much of what I think is missed by many others.
The other half of my delta-analogy though describes what really made the book difficult to enjoy. Amidst all of this apparent “life” and potential, the pacing of the book--which is obviously fast-going right from the beginning--quickly slowed into a languid crawl and never got moving again. Tamghat, instead of going after vulnerable girl and consuming her soul, decides to take up residence in Attalissa’s temple and wait for her to return. Attalissa, instead of trying to find some way of removing Tamghat from his position, runs into the desert to hide and grow up. And a third interested party, Moth (another protector of sorts for the entire world that ends up becoming a major player) has to spend the entire book tracking down Tamghat because she was lazing about in the snowy north, instead camping out in the place where the wizard had been trapped with several others of his kind. So we readers spend the entire book waiting for things to happen. And they do--eventually--but there was nothing surprising about the end in the slightest.
Characterization was pretty rough. A few characters are fairly well fleshed-out, but on the whole they were scattered and had sketchy motivations. The cast of characters was massive too: thirteen. The major amount of time revolves around those few that I’ve listed above, but introducing all the others absolutely slaughtered the pacing of the first fifth of the book. Moth was definitely my favorite PoV, because she was the one character that had clear motivations and concerted movement toward her goal for the entire book. The others just seemed to do a whole lot of waiting, and planning, and passing the time.
On the whole, the book was WAY too long to support the story, but about spot on for what it could have been. There’s so much potential here that I think could really lead to good things in later novels. That is, if that potential is harnessed and instructed and then pointed in a single direction. I’ll be very interested in seeing where this newly-published author goes with her future work.
Recommended age: 14+
Language: Very little
Violence: A few injuries from swords, broken bones, people die
Sex: Obviously avoided in several instances
K.V. Johansen's Website
Admittedly, I am a fanboy of several things. Steven Erikson novels. Christopher Nolan movies. Jamiroquai. California Pizza Kitchen. The New Orleans Saints. I've recently added another author to my fanboy list. Sarah Pinborough. All of you readers will recall how I unashamedly squealed like a little girl in delight over Pinborough's novel A MATTER OF BLOOD. I loved everything about it (read the review here). Well I finally managed to read her sequel to that amazing novel, THE SHADOW OF THE SOUL.
I loved it!
Pinborough's The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy is an odd melting-pot of genres and ideas. You get a gritty crime novel mixed with some Urban Fantasy. But don't forget the strong Horror elements or the Science Fiction. This series pretty much mixes it all together effortlessly.
The story of THE SHADOW OF THE SOUL again follows DI Cass Jones. He's dealing with the consequences of exposing a massive amount of corruption in his police precinct in London, as well as dealing with all of the personal fallout from the family matters from A MATTER OF BLOOD. As bad as things are for Cass, they get worse when an enormous terrorist attack cripples London. As he investigates the terrorism, he soon realizes that it may all be wrapped up in the otherworldly people he came into contact with in the previous novel.
The reason I absolutely fell in love with the first novel was its perfect mixture of ideas. It was like that recipe where you just happen to get every single thing perfect, and the taste of the dish created is so good you want to brag to all your friends and family about it. I had absolutely no idea how Pinborough would be able to follow up on A MATTER OF BLOOD. While THE SHADOW OF THE SOUL wasn't quite as perfect as the first novel, it was still freaking amazing. For me, A MATTER OF BLOOD was an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. THE SHADOW OF THE SOUL comes in at a 9.8 on the same scale.
It all begins with the character of Cass Jones. He is so flawed and easy to identify with. He gets frustrated. Overwhelmed. He sees things that are wrong with the world and wants to fix them. He feels guilt for putting people in terrible situations. He also is very much alone in the world. All of this is presented to the reader with supreme ease by the author. At the same time Pinborough shows that in some ways Jones is not even close the best person in the world. The change in Cass from the first book to the second is readily apparent and completely natural.
The setting is also handled perfectly. London (not to mention the rest of the world, really) it going through a slow apocalypse of sorts. Life is tough. Situations for people are beginning to seem completely hopeless. The tone Pinborough writes into this novel is spot-on perfect. As Cass Jones begins investigating a series of supposed suicides, the tone is enhanced even further. Descriptions of everything from buildings to murder scenes hammer home the decay of the world. The weariness attaches itself to the characters, changing them even further.
I love the Pinborough writes. I love the way she describes the world through the eyes of Cass Jones--he sees that the world is in a bad way (and that he himself is a mess), but he always looks up to see where things are hopeful. The pacing is terrific. The horror is frightening. Most importantly you never feel like anyone is safe which exponentially adds to the tension as the novel progresses.
Honestly I'm having trouble keeping my gleeful enthusiasm in check. I absolutely love this series. THE SHADOW OF THE SOUL, while obviously the middle book of a trilogy, does so many things right that all I want to do is read the next book in the series. This is the type of book (and series) I wish I could write, and am actively working towards that end goal.
This series is due to hit the US next year. If you don't want to wait, import her novels from the UK. You won't regret it. You may just become a complete fan like I have.
Recommended Age: 17+
Violence: All sorts.
Sex: Talked about but never shown in detail.
TRIO OF SORCERY contains three novellas by seasoned author Mercedes Lackey. She's known for strong heroines in her YA and Urban Fantasy novels, and the three main characters in TRIO are no exception. Each of the book's mysteries are shorter stories based on characters from Lackey's existing series—if you haven't read any of them, then this would be a good introduction; if you have, at the very least these are an entertaining addition. Lackey's writing overall is straightforward, with excellent pacing, and storylines with a few twists.
Arcanum 101 - Diana Tregarde is beginning her studies at Harvard in the early 1970s. But she's not your typical co-ed. She's a witch, however not your ordinary variety.
A sort of prequel to Lackey's 1990s Diana Tregarde series, "Arcanum 101" shows Diana's beginnings as a paranormal investigator. A Cambridge police officer shows up at her door early in the term, having been told that she knows how to deal with the strange and unusual. Being a Guardian, once asked for help, she's compelled to give aid until the problem is resolved.
It's a fun story with good set-up and setting. Her powers have limits and are explained. I get a good feel for the era and place, and the characters are an interesting assortment of skeptics and the curious.
Drums - Also set in the 1970s, "Drums" is about Jennie, a Native American Medicine Woman who works as a PI with her boyfriend David and her grandfather. They're hired by Nathan, whose girlfriend Caroline goes suddenly reclusive. Jennie learns quickly that it has nothing to do with Nathan, alcohol, or peyote: it has to do with a vengeful ghost.
Like "Arcanum", "Drums" is a novella from part of an existing series, with established characters and setting. Despite having not read the other books, and the story's brevity, I got a great feel for the culture--well, at least the parts that were important to the story.
Jennie, despite her experience as a Medicine Woman, is flummoxed by the ghost and the danger it is to Caroline. She uses legend, magic, and logic to solve a complicated problem. She's a great character, and the story sucks you in.
Ghost in the Machine - Tom works at Many Worlds Online, a popular MMO. A new zone has recently gone live, but players are whining about the difficulty level—and the new area boss, the Wendigo, isn't behaving according to its programming. Tom thinks it might be a hack, but when he logs in his avatar in god mode...he's immediately face-planted by the Wendigo. The game's developers quickly realize that there's no fix for this, short of shutting down all the servers.
So they call in the cavalry: Ell, a self-proclaimed techno shaman. Ell eventually comes to the realization that too many facts from the Wendigo myth are used, and as a result, past and present belief in the Wendigo have made it real. And now it wants to find a way off the MWO servers, and into the real world.
While I enjoyed Tom as a skeptic PoV, whose reactions and character were enjoyable to read, the second PoV, Ell, was a little too perfect as the magical techie with all the answers. The resolution to the problem seemed a little over-the-top, and as a result the wacky climax, while amusing, kept me from taking the story at all seriously.
Recommended Age: 14+
Violence: One mildly graphic death; moderate peril; video game violence
Sex: Mild references
What a year for Science Fiction it's been. I mean we've had LEVIATHAN WAKES by James S A Corey that was excellent. China Miéville's EMBASSYTOWN was weird, wonderful and brilliant. Robert Charles Wilson finished up his Spin trilogy in fine form with VORTEX. And now along comes Vernor Vinge to show us all again how this is really done with CHILDREN OF THE SKY.
I'm going to be perfectly honest here from the beginning. A FIRE UPON THE DEEP (also by Vinge, and actually CHILDREN OF THE SKY is a sequel to it), is one of my favorite books of all time. Around these here parts (and by these here parts I mean amongst us reviewers at EBR), I'm kind of the Science Fiction guy. If an SF book comes along, most likely I'm the one reviewing it. The reason I read SF--and love it so much--and the reason I look at all those SF books and go through the pages of science and weird inventions and sometimes crappy aliens, is so I can find a book like A FIRE UPON THE DEEP. FIRE, along with DUNE, in my opinion, are the standards upon which all other SF must be judged.
Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), when I heard that Vinge was writing a sequel to A FIRE UPON THE DEEP, I was thrilled. When Steve called me and told me he had a ARC for it I did a little happy dance. (He's lucky he didn't tell me in person. I'd have kissed him full on the mouth.)
Were my expectations high for this book? Absolutely. Did Vinge meet every one of those expectations? No. Did he give me something else instead that was wonderful and amazing and still one of the best books of the year (if not the best)? Yes.
The book picks up where A FIRE UPON THE DEEP left off, or rather, ten years after Fire left off. Ravna, Jefri, Johanna, all of the rest of the children and all of the tines, are still stuck in the bottom of the slow zone. The Blight is still out there (supposedly) and is slowly making it's way towards the world. Ravna has been seeking the fastest way to build up the technology of the burgeoning world to have a fighting chance when the blight arrives. Meanwhile the other children are growing up and starting to question the stories they have been told about what has happened since they were put to sleep at the start of FIRE. Complications ensue, alliances, betrayals. Along with all of that is an ever widening view of the tines world and society. Things I had never thought of or considered before were given the spotlight.
CHILDREN OF THE SKY, in short, was brilliant. No one out there does space opera like Vinge. There are books who have great plots with well thought out ideas, but normally characterization suffers because of it. The book is a showcase for a thought experiment. Other books showcase great characters but the plot is quite as intricate; isn't as cool, isn't as mind blowing. Vinge does it all. the characters are real and you feel for them. The book is a page turner. And the ideas are wonderful (the Tines are still up there as my favorite aliens I've ever met in a book).
I loved it. I loved it. I loved it.
I needed to get that out of the way before I mentioned a few things that bummed me out about the book. I don't want you all thinking the book wasn't great. It is. It just wasn't perfect, nor was it A FIRE UPON THE DEEP again. The thing that I felt the lack of in this book was the rest of space. In A FIRE UPON THE DEEP, the story was split between the turmoil on the Tines world, and then what was happening in the rest of the universe with the blight and the zones of thought. There were aliens and Powers and space battles and ships. I loved how the two stories came together. I loved watching it build up to an amazing conclusion. This book focuses on the Tines world and the struggles there. It was brilliant, but I missed being in space and I thought we would see more of it.
The only other thing I can think of that bothered me is that this is obviously a middle volume in a trilogy. Something I didn't know before. There are still questions left unanswered (now more so than at the end of Fire). The problems still approaching our heroes seems even larger now. This is a great book, but the story is not done yet. The problem is, I WANT TO KNOW THE REST, DARN IT! Now we have to wait for Vinge to finish the story.
If CHILDREN OF THE SKY is any indication, the wait will be well worth it in the end.
Age Recommendation: There's some hard science stuff so I'd say 14+, but really as soon as you can understand it and enjoy it, go for it.
Language: Very Little
Violence: A little bit, nothing too gory.
Sex: A few references but nothing shown or talked about.
Until recently I thought Felix Gilman was associated with the Warhammer 40K books, which I really didn’t think would be for me. So, I never picked up any of his books. Honestly I don’t know what ever put that idea into my head, but a couple of weeks ago an impulse sent me out to check my sources and I found out that Mr. Gilman wasn’t associated with the 40K books at all. Although, one of the main characters of the Warhammer 40K books was named…can you guess? Yup. Felix. I am so ashamed.
THE HALF-MADE WORLD is Felix Gilman’s third book. The first two were a duology, and this starts a new story that was really a whole lot of fun to read. The premise revolves around an alternate version of the Wild West with a whole bunch of twists on it. There are four major players in the game this time:
The Line is led by a few dozen massively sized, demon-possessed machines, as they are expanding their influence across into the Western U.S. They travel by rail, are ubiquitous with smoke and oil and grease. They contain within their arsenal machine guns, helicopters, tracking devices, amplifiers, noise-bombs, and a whole host of other goodies. They are the advanced technological mode of the Wild West and they are coming to swallow you whole.
The Gun is a scattered mob of toughs that each carry with them a gun possessed by a demon. These are the bandits of the West. The demons of the Gun and the demons of The Line hate one another and want nothing more than to wipe the other from the face of the land. The Agents of the Gun never have to reload, their bodies heal at an advanced rate, and their masters provide them enough speed and strength that make capturing or killing an agent is nearly impossible, though it has been done. The demon-possessed Engines and Guns can be destroyed, but the demons that inhabit them are later reborn in another gun. Or another engine. A condition that only perpetuates the war.
Two other groups, the Hill Folk (Indian-like people that can be killed but come back to life later) and those that are unaligned (nothing special about these poor schmucks), are caught in the crossfire of The Gun and The Line again and again as the war wages across the hills.
The story starts as Liv Alverhuysen, a psychologist who has just lost her husband, has received an invitation for her husband to visit a hospital on the far western edge of the explored world. They need help with certain patients that have lost their minds from the noise-bombs of the Line. She decides to accept the invitation for her husband and makes her way there. Creedmore is an agent of the Gun, though one that has been out of favor for a time. He’s called upon by his master to find a General that has been found in a hospital far to the west. This general has a secret within his scrambled mind of a weapon that can kill the demons. Lowry, a leader of The Line, has been given the task of finding...are you following this?...a General. In a hospital. In the far west.
Reading the first five chapters of this book taught me just how much I LOVE a setup. And to find it so early in the book, I was mega-excited. Not only is this story well structured, it’s full, too. History and description and character fill the pages, and it all just flies by because Gilman does such a great job of making us forget that we’re reading a book. His prose is fluid and descriptive and immersive. Secondary characters were meaningful and important to the story. There was so much to love about this book and I gobbled it all down eagerly.
I only had a few issues with the book. The first was rather large though and dealt with the idea of the “half-made world”. The far western edge of explored lands was supposed to lead into the half-made world, where the land was nebulous, and the dreams of visitors and inhabitants formed the world into what it would be. It’s a place where things aren’t named and no one visits, for fear that they will die within its reaches. And yet, once the story progresses past this western border, the results were less than impressive. In fact, except for a very few pieces that were actually pretty cool, the land felt very mundane and normal, with flora and fauna and even settlers. It was a bit deflating to find so little new when I got there.
My second disappointment was on a mid-range level and concerned the minimal amount of action in the book. There is some, but by and large it’s really short or avoided. With the huge setup and convergence of the major powers of the West on this hospital, I expected a BIG shebang. What I got was good, just less (and more delayed) than I had anticipated. Though I am expecting goodness in the next book.
The third tripping point, and this really doesn't have any reflection upon Mr. Gilman at all, is the fact that for essentially the entire read I thought this was a stand-alone book. It isn’t. In like manner to his previous offering, this story was developed as a duology. So the ending I thought I was going to get wasn’t there. There definitely was an ending, and I felt like it was satisfying once I realized what it was. I love the fact that this guy is writing two book series (different!), and the ending on this one was good. It just would have been nice to know ahead of time what I was holding. Trilogies are marketed and labeled as such. Multi-book series similarly. Standalone books look like what they are. Duologies don't crop up that often, but they need to be labeled differently. They’re NOT standalones. Someone needs to do something about this.
On the whole, this was a really fun read and should lead nowhere but up in the next volume. THE HALF-MADE WORLD is very near the top of the Like scale for me. The stakes have been upped and the mystery has grown. I’m actually really excited for the next, and if it doesn’t come out pretty soon I may just go back and see what his previous books were like. Actually, that doesn’t sound like a "half"-bad idea. Hee-hee.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Fairly seldom but strong
Violence: Sparse but does get a bit gory at times
Sex: A few references to an MC being with several different women
One of my favorite books last year was ROT & RUIN by Jonathan Maberry. It was a great take on the after-effects of the zombie apocalypse from the eyes of a teenager. It was also a great example of YA well-done--a fast paced story with fun dialogue and a setting that mixed horror and humor well.
DUST & DECAY was released last month, and I was extremely excited to get a chance to give it a read. Benny, Tom, Nix and Lilah are getting ready to leave town in search of the jumbo jet they saw flying at the end of the first book. Their training is going well, and everything seems to be on schedule for them to head out into the Rot and Ruin.
But this is a zombie book. More specifically this is a zombie book by Jonathan Maberry. Anything that can go wrong does go wrong. In the case of this novel, things go wrong right from the very beginning.
I think this is Maberry's strength in DUST & DECAY. Through the conflict introduced literally at every little turn in the road, we get to see how the characters have grown and how they cope with the horror surrounding them. It seems like in every novel I read, the characters always react perfectly controlled in terrible situations. It was refreshing to see some characters completely fall apart under the pressure.
What are some of these crazy situations? Oddly enough (or maybe not odd at all) it was the acts of humans that were the most horrible for the characters to witness. The rumors of a new Gameland (where kids are thrown into pits with zombies gladiator style) are floating around. Someone is killing hunters by luring packs of zombies to them. Certain people want revenge on Benny and the gang for the events at the end of the previous novel. The group barely makes it out of town when everything goes wrong.
This is where I'm of two minds about this novel. Part of me is a bit bugged by the lack of actual movement in this novel. Without giving much away, I got the feeling that this was almost an alternate ending to the first book. It's a great ending by itself, and it would have worked really well as the ending of book one. But for book 2? I don't know, the whole thing felt like running in circles.
On the other hand I think this story needed to have this portion to it. The characters--especially Benny--needed to come into their own. Could they have really made the journey to find that jumbo-jet without the events of book 2? Probably not. Are the characters much stronger individuals following the end of DUST & DECAY? 100% without a question.
So now you see where my internal back-and-forth on this novel comes from.
All of that being said, then ending is pretty great from a character and action standpoint. Again, seeing how terrible people gives the zombies in the novel an added bit of their humanity back...which is one of the major themes of this series, in my opinion.
When the last page of this novel was turned, I really liked it. Did I absolutely love it like I did ROT & RUIN? Not quite. DUST & DECAY is still a great read, and I encourage you to buy and read both of the books in this series.
Recommended Age: 13 and up.
Language: Not much, if any.
Violence: There are some pretty crazy things going on here, but Maberry does a good job pulling back just a tad considering the target audience of the novel.
Terry Pratchett. The man's a living legend, and his Discworld series is one of the few works out there that proves humorous fantasy has a place in this world. At this point, reviewing his books is about as useful as giving a thumbs up to a work by John Grisham, right? So why bother with a review of his latest book, SNUFF?
Plenty of reasons.
First of all, some Pratchett fans out there might not be aware that he has a new book coming out. As a diehard Pratchett fan myself, I know I wouldn't want to miss one of his works just because I was too busy being distracted by other books at the moment...hey, it happens. But let's be honest: any serious Pratchett fan should already well aware of the latest book on its way. That said, Discworld has over 35 books in it, and that sheer number alone is the main reason I'm writing this review. There might well be fantasy readers out there who've heard of Pratchett, but have no desire to devote themselves to a 35+ novel epic. It'd be like tuning into Lost for the last three episodes, right? Wrong.
Pratchett's Discworld series is a series only insofar as it all shares the same globe, and some of the same characters. In reality, the series is cut into smaller chunks, with certain characters taking the lead role in certain books. Thus, you have the Witches books, the Death books, the Wizards, Tiffany Aching and the like. Fans have their favorite characters. I personally really like the Death books and the City Watch books, and so I'm really happy to report that SNUFF is a City Watch book.
So what does that mean exactly? It means that it has Sam Vines as the main protagonist. He's the street-wise head of the of the City Watch, and he usually has a full rank of watchmen below him. SNUFF is a bit of an oddity in this regard, as Sam takes a trip to the country with his wife and son (and awesome butler Willikins). Other City Watch characters appear in the novel, but they take on fairly minor roles--many of them no more than cameos. This is all just to say that if you haven't read a Discworld novel, there's no time like the present to start. SNUFF isn't the best of the bunch, but just being a Discworld book sets it above most of the other books being published today.
Another unifying aspect most of the Discworld novels have is that they each take on a certain theme. Religion, tradition, free agency--I don't mean to say that Pratchett hammers his readers over the head with a theme (well, not usually), but each book often drives home a certain point. In Snuff, Pratchett tackles the very weighty subject of racism. What makes a person a person? In Discworld, there are many different sentient beings. Humans, Trolls, Dwarfs, Nac Mac Feegle (sort of militant Scotch Smurfs)--they all get along, more or less. At the very least, they treat each other as beings worthy of some degree of respect. Except goblins. Goblins are just about as bad as rats. They're disease-ridden, incapable of higher thought, and killing an entire group of them is no worse than getting the exterminator to come out and take care of a nasty spider problem.
The story in SNUFF involves Sam going to the country, and he meeting a colony of goblins who have been treated very poorly over the past few decades. Not that he really cares about it--until someone kills a goblin and tries to use its blood to implicate Vimes in a murder. Then it's personal. Vimes starts to get to know some goblins personally, and he discovers (surprise surprise) that they really aren't too different from humans. (Aside from the propensity to like eating turkey gizzards, that is. And the bathing habits)
It's a twisty, turny plot, with rollicking boat rides, deep caves, and some key harp music. In the hands of a lesser author, all of this would get overwhelming and dry. Even in Pratchett's well-practiced pen, the book has a tendency to bog down a bit more than some of his other Discworld novels. I think this is mainly due to how bleak the subject material is. It's hard to make something like that be humorous at the same time.
In the end, however, it's a subject worth addressing. Using fantasy characters, Pratchett's able to let his readers look at their own prejudices in a non-threatening way. Is it too much to hope that someone reading SNUFF will read about the way goblins are treated and realize that they mistreat some people based on preconceived notions? Possibly, but I applaud Pratchett for trying.
Recommended Age: 14+
Violence: Some, but never overly bloody. Violence happens, but Pratchett keeps the tone light enough to keep it from becoming gory.
Sex: Nothing but a few heaving bosoms.
There are times when, as a reviewer, you pick up a book, get about twenty pages into it, and then say, “There’s no way I’m going to finish reading this.” This happened to my illustrious boss, Steve, when he started reading this book. So, he stopped reading it, and then pawned it off on me. [grumble, grumble] You still have to love the guy, though.
THE FALLEN BLADE is the first book of a trilogy written by Jon Courtenay Grimwood. I’d never read anything by this author before, and doubt I’ll be voluntarily going to back for another round anywhere in the near future. The story revolves mostly around a youngish boy, Tycho, that has been turned into one of The Fallen (read: Vampire) by jumping into a magical fire (read: Time Travel Portal), and ultimately gets trained as an assassini (read: assassin) by a master of such, while living in Renaissance-age Venice. Vampire assassins flying around Venice, you say? What could be bad about that? I know. The premise doesn’t sound that terrible at all. In fact, it sounds like it could be quite good. Honestly, it’s a shame how it all turned out.
Five pages in, I knew I was in trouble, and essentially nothing changed from that point until the end of the book. Thankfully, all of my issues can be boiled down to a couple, very distinct concepts.
No, not the drug that Tom Cruise huffs in Minority Report. I’m talking the kind that lets you see through a glass of drinking water. The kind that lets you enjoy the beautiful blue sky soaring high above you. The kind that lets you understand, as a reader, what is going on in a story when you read the words printed across the pages of the book. There’s none of it here. And I mean none.
Right from the get-go I had no idea what was going on. There's a kid hanging from a wall where people can see him, but no one will help. He's praying, but not even the Gods deign to listen to him. Then it’s four months prior, and there are some new characters coming in, but I’m not sure which ones I’m supposed to think are important because the PoV keeps jumping around all over the place. There’s a complete lack of detail and context that makes me want to tear my eyeballs out every time I come back for more. There’s no sense of place, or history, or meaning, or anything that grabs at my interest. The prose almost feels more like slipstream, the way it jumps from one topic to the next; from one character to the next; from one place to the next. Literally every character in a given scene not only comes across as cardboard, but each of them gets the opportunity to finish the sentences of the other characters. Nowhere to be found, though, is any kind of explanation or attempt to help the reader understand what any of it means. This makes the dialogue feel more like it's full of repetitive interruption, completely destroying any ability to understand what is going on in a scene or why it matters.
Second: Suspension of disbelief
There was a whole lot that happened that just didn't make sense, thus pulling me away from the experience and leaving me confused. This issue was very intimately tied into the lack of clarity. Events take place that don't make sense, and seem to just be there to allow the plot to move along. There's also a decided lack of detail when it comes to the city itself and women. The only piece of this alternate-Venice that stood out was the large timbers that have been driven into the ground to line the canals. Then there's the fact that 95% of all the description we get about any of the women that play parts in the story are described solely by the shape and size of their thighs and breasts. The pieces that make up an engaging world and a fascinating read were just lacking in the extreme.
Now granted, the entire book wasn’t horrible. Occasionally, there were a few pages that would string together something interesting or understandable and I’d start to think that maybe the book would turn a corner. Then it’d drop right back into the mess and start floundering again. I literally had no idea what was going on, why any of it mattered, or where the story was even going until I had made it clear to the end of the book. Once there, I stepped back and looked at all the pieces that had been laid out—the named characters, the connections, the city, the political intrigue, the betrayals, the supernatural elements—and said, “Wow, this really could have been a great novel.” And it could have. It really could have. But it wasn’t. Actually, I'd rather have read TWILIGHT again, than this one. Wading through these pages was like trying to find a marshmallow at the bottom of a swamp: literally impossible and what’s the point if you can’t eat the marshmallow afterward anyhow?
Honestly, I’m completely in awe that this novel ever saw the light of day. Then again, I don’t know what I would have done if I’d told someone to go write a book that had this really amazing-sounding premise and then they came back with this. “Gaping fish” is the only visual I can seem to bring up. I’d be interested in any other suggestions.
A book to avoid like the black plague, which missed being included in this tale by about 50 years.
Recommended age: 16+, though why you'd want to torture them with this, I don't know
Language: Infrequent, but strong
Violence: Werewolves, assassins, a vampire—there's some
Sex: Some scenes of sensuality
Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Website